Monday, April 9, 2012

Christ is Risen- Get Off my Porch!

My Easter sermon- on the amazing day where 161 people worshipped where last year there were 90 and where we had three baptisms of neighborhood kids. And where we are one week after a tragic shooting death in our neighborhood.
On the way to the tomb, the women remembered the story way back when it all began. It was supposed to be good news. But now they trudge to the grave- numb. Stumbling in the early morning light, forcing themselves to go. Perhaps along the way, re-telling the stories-of things that’d been, the man they now missed. Trying to recapture it. Going through the motions of what was expected. They’re worn out, just coming to do what needed to be done. All the others had fallen away or were hunkered down in fear. The women, they had hung on to hope the hardest, tried to keep the faith. But then nothing happened, and it seemed pretty definite this was the way it would be. They had let to it sink in- it really must be true. He was dead, there was nothing more to expect.

But then they got there and thought they must be dreaming-The stone was rolled away! Out of the darkness came a message in the light, proclaiming that God and not death has the last word! The stone was rolled away! They heard Jesus had risen and had a message for his followers-Go tell!! What Jesus said would happen- has! But...they were speechless. Why does the gospel end like this? Shouldn’t there be more? It's perhaps why there was a later addition that fixes the ending in Mark. Because there should be dancing and excitement, people doing the right thing, all the loose ends wrapped up with a happy ending. Not like this-the stone is rolled away, but the most faithful followers, the ones expected to do as they were commanded- Don’t. They DON’T go and tell. They run away-afraid. And it seems their faith away ran with them.  I even imagine that as they run, they are looking back over their shoulders, still expecting to see that stone. Running, wondering, but apparently not believing.  If we were there, would we? They don’t tell because their faith falls away. What about us? Do WE tell even now? Maybe there IS more to this story. We too can find it easy to get busy dwelling on the stone, whatever that represents in our lives- big heavy things, cold and dark places, things we just can’t move. Sometime there are so many obstacles. Can WE really believe God moves obstacles, much less believe the message of the empty tomb? Or …are some of us here today because we’re supposed to be? Maybe someone expects us to be here. Maybe WE expect ourselves to be here, but some of us may not be sure why. And even if we DO get it, are WE gonna go and tell, or just go home?  

Good thing God’s power is bigger. The stone WAS rolled away but if it was up to us for the rest of the story-the disciples, the women at the tomb or you and me- we probably wouldn’t achieve it. In fairness, maybe we fear we’re not the best messengers. We don’t feel all that pulled together or all that changed- what could WE really tell anyone anyway? And we haven’t been the best followers. And yet- knowing who the disciples will be, God’s message for those doubting, scared and worn out followers isn’t Jesus saying “Hey I’ve risen and why did you deny me?” or “I was strong enough to defy death- Why isn’t your faith stronger?” The message was - “Go and Tell!! Jesus is risen and is moving forward. And he’s waiting for you. So stop looking back! GO!” And this is true whether the women tell or not. Because the God who cannot be contained by that stone, or the power of death can’t be contained by us either. God isn’t waiting for us to validate that Jesus is risen- it is so! But God is still looking for us. The story we hear this day isn’t one with a weird ending, but a glorious new beginning.

Even when we deny, fall away, or get stuck in fear, God still seeks us to be a part of the ongoing vision of grace, love and forgiveness. Saying no obstacle in our lives is too big for the power of God. God wants us to leave the weight of the stone and the fear of the darkness behind. The real reason the messenger met the women and meets us isn’t to test our resolve, but to reassure-that in all the anxiety and disappointments of life, God wants to offer something new. Stop focusing on the stone you can scarcely move, and let your fear be turned into faith.

This is especially important for us here in the aftermath of news on Palm Sunday of a man was shot dead in our neighborhood- caught in the crossfire of someone else’s battle-an event that makes fear easier to embrace than faith. I was talking with many of the neighbors that day as the police were at work. Mass had just let out at St Margaret’s. Lots of people were coming down Spring Street with large crosses, elaborately decorated with palms, while neighbors were all out, and the police were stringing up the Yellow DO NOT CROSS tape on both sides of the street.  It was pretty chaotic. I spoke to one man, who was confused by my clerical collar. He was pretty sure I wasn’t Catholic, but the word “Lutheran” didn’t connect. By process of elimination, he asked if I was Pentecostal, and then with a worried look, asked if I was with “Los Testigos.” The Spanish term for testifiers, or witnesses- he wanted to know if I was a Jehovah’s Witness. When I said “no”, relieved, he told me how the day before Los Testigos had come through the neighborhood. A man asked him if he really believed that Jesus died for him? He said that he did. The person asking told him-“NO! Jesus is dead and Jesus did NOT die for you.”

The man said- “That’s not true! Jesus did die for me and Jesus is alive! I believe this. Now- GET OFF MY PORCH!"

Today we today celebrate what God in Christ Jesus has done and IS doing now-for you, for me, for all. And WE are the testifiers and witnesses to this truth. A truth that continues to strengthen us in the face of those in the world who try to tell us that all we have is a stone, fear and death. We celebrate this good news and the remind ourselves we all share in the ongoing new life in Christ, as we witness and celebrate the baptism of C.J. and Gabby and Giovanni. Baptism is a living reminder that we die in Christ AND share in his resurrection and are given faith. This is what we proclaim and celebrate we make the sign of the cross- symbol not of death but of victory. This is what we see anew as we light a candle that brightens our world's darkness. This is what we experience as water washes us clean and restores us. Ways we're given strength to tell the story.

While Easter and baptisms are times for looking back and sharing stories and pictures,  I hope, I REALLY hope, we’ll do more than just talk about Easter outfits, and stories of “remember when.” Because neither our baptisms  nor the resurrection are just history. They’re events opening up a whole new reality in God’s world, of a story we are in, that’s still unfolding. A story we’re still called to tell. Let’s first tell ourselves- let it sink in- it’s really true! The stone has been rolled away. God has overcome sin and death for us, and in spite of us, out of love for us and he waits for us. It is this good news that empowers us to tell evil wherever we see it- get off our porch. get off our streets, and get out of our world- because Christ IS risen indeed! Alleluia!!!   Amen   

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